by James Green
Featured on Entrepreneur, September 22, 2014
There are many different jobs in the world, some more stressful than others. Being an entrepreneur in the tech space comes with incredible pressures. Sometimes the stress comes from the fear of not being able to make payroll: Will employees still have a job next week, next month, next quarter or next year?
Other times, the entrepreneur is grappling with the pressure of not being able to return borrowed capital: Well-respected people have trusted him or her with millions of dollars of investment capital. Will it all be lost? And then there’s market pressure, one competitor nipping at the company’s heels or another one to chase.
Most people take yearly vacations for a break from these stressors. Often, however, entrepreneurs can’t take a complete break, either because they are incapable of removing themselves from their work or their jobs so intense and the need to make decisions so incessant that even when they take a breather, work follows them.
While I can’t speak for others, I can say that my vacations have generally amounted to an opportunity to work while being with my family in a pleasant environment. In other words, I never really take a break. And so it’s no surprise that if a person keeps doing this, the pressure builds up: The person becomes less productive, less imaginative and less effective as a leader (not to mention, less fun to be around).
From 1998 to 2010 I ran four companies and then sold them all. When my fourth company was sold, with a little help from my wife, Emma-Kate, we realized that I simply wasn’t myself. I felt very insecure about my abilities, and although I had started looking for something to do next, I found myself being lackluster at meetings and interviews.
Fortunately, there was one thing that I had always wanted to do that wasn’t work related: to go sailing for a year and cross one of the world’s oceans. We thought about this idea for a while, then put our belongings in storage and went for this trip.
Taking a year off for a sailing trip remains the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was incredibly rewarding, and I came back feeling 10 years younger. I was invigorated, ready to conquer the world and had boatloads of energy. So why exactly does a work hiatus help? Here are some reasons:
1. A break can remove someone from stressors.
Each person operates at optimum productivity with a different level of stress. I personally need some stress to keep me sharp. With too little stress I stall, but with too much I’m overwhelmed. If you find yourself burned out from stress, unimaginative or just plain unhappy, then taking a break can be a fantastic thing.
For me, spending a year on the beach would notwork. Everyone has something that they would like to do. Some people have goals that are quite modest. Others have quite extravagant ideas. Taking a break is as much about a person’s realizing what he is passionate about as it is about removing him from the source of stress.
2. It reminds a person what’s important.
I learned many things from sailing, about what’s important and what’s not. When I’m in the thick of things at work, that’s what seems important, but I tend to lose sight of all else. During my sailing trip, I asked my daughter what she gained from our taking time off together. Without hesitation she said, “Getting to know you, Daddy.” Frankly that one statement made the whole trip worthwhile.
3. It can open up new professional opportunities.
When someone takes a hiatus, many people are interested in hearing about it when she returns. Life experiences like this make for great stories and show that a person is brave and confident and a leader. Hiring companies may be intrigued by such tales. For better or worse, people are judged by what they’ve done most recently. So those planning to take some time off should do something meaningful.
If it’s impossible for financial or personal reasons to recharge this way, take a short vacation and think about what’s wrong and what can be done to fix things. Such introspection can even lead to the conclusion that a change should not be made.
Sometimes a person isn’t making a change out of loyalty to a company. While that’s understandable, do consider other options when happiness is absent.
All the pressures of life can never be removed and frankly who would want them to be? That’s what keeps life interesting. But when these pressures become too much, doing something else for a while can be just the thing to restore confidence and sanity.